Directed by: Tom Shadyac
Written by: Doug Atchison
Starring: Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Melanie Liburd, Xosha Roquemore, Tiffany Dupont, Jose Miguel Vasquez, Morgan Freeman
I would be what you consider a “fair weather” sports fan. I’ll watch sports if they’re on TV, but I don’t go out of my way to do so. When it comes to movies about sports though, I find myself rather drawn towards them, if nothing else to remind me of the power of the human spirit; the rise to excellence and the achievement of perfection, while never quitting.
“Brian Banks,” which had an excellent showing at the Phoenix Film Festival this past April is in theaters this weekend. It tells a semi-autobiographical story of Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge, “Straight Outta Compton,” “Hidden Figures”), a man falsely accused of kidnap and rape when he was 16. Banks was an all star football player in his Long Beach high school team and had the attention of the big college bowl teams.
Shadyac, who brought Jim Carrey to prominence with “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” in 1994 used that experience to piece together a legal drama with a sports theme. Atchison’s (“Akeelah and the Bee”) script focused more on the mental prison that Banks faced as he served out his prison sentence and his probation while trying to find a way to get his case reviewed and his conviction overturned.
Atchison pins the story on the theme of perspective and forgiveness rather than rage, that we are in control of our own reactions to what life throws our way. In that regard, Greg Kinnear appears as Justin Brooks, the head of the California Innocence Project. He would be the lawyer who eventually helps Banks’ file his motion of Habeas Corpus.
Hodge’s performance as a man both physically and mentally incarcerated and his journey to face not only his own demons, but those of the legal system that didn’t care about him in the first place, are strong points in this film’s favor. Kinnear plays Brooks a bit more restrained than I was expecting, perhaps so as not to get our hopes up.
Shadyac, who moved from comedy to drama showed a great ease with all of the material, especially when it came to demonstrating Banks’s struggles to get support, but the drama doesn’t always work, especially when it came to balancing out the legal aspects of Atchison’s script, which felt somewhat forced; a function of the editing and the story rather than the direction.
Morgan Freeman makes an uncredited cameo appearance in the film as a counselor that preaches a mantra, “All you can control in life is how you react to life.” Banks’s, and by extension, Hodge’s journey are really all about reinforcing this principle.
Some might find the sentiment to be schlocky and question the film’s timing.
Shadyac directs Hodge with style; Hodge offers conviction in his performance. Together, they give us hope and inspiration in a time when violence in the news has reached an all-time high.
Movies are meant as an escape from our own realities. They often can shape our perception of the world around us. “Brian Banks” successfully challenges us to look at the world through better eyes than the hand that we are dealt.
3.25 out of 4